French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France

From Chapter One, “Inspiration”

I had a garden in the south of France. It wasn’t a big garden. Or a sumptuous one. Or a successful one, even, in the end. But that didn’t matter. It was my garden, and I worked it hard and lovingly for the few months I had it—or it had me. This little piece of tan, clayey, French earth, nine meters by thirteen meters (thirty feet by forty-three feet), was in fact the first garden I ever had. It taught me a great deal about myself. “Your garden will reveal yourself,” writes the wise gardener Henry Mitchell. It did. It taught me that I am generous, impatient, hard-working, sentimental, boyish, stubborn and lazy.

Having a garden also connected me to France in a way more profound and more lasting than any other way I can possibly think of. Part of me is still there. And always will be. Even though my friend Jules Favier has recently written to me from the village that “only one of the four boundaries of your garden remains standing,” I’m not upset. What does that matter? The garden is in my heart. Having a garden gave me a place to go in my village every day, a task to perform and a responsibility. You cannot ask more of a land in which you are a stranger. To feel the French earth, clear it, plant seeds in it, despair over it and, ultimately, to take from it, that was a precious gift.

Selected Works


"I possess a deep prejudice against anything written by Anglo-Saxons about their lives in or near French villages. So, Richard, I thank you for breaking the spell. I like very much what you wrote."
–M.F.K. Fisher

"Goodman borrows a plot of land on which to grow a garden, a project that his neighbors view first with curiosity, then with sympathy and a deepening sense of involvement. There's a genuine sweetness about the way the cucumbers and tomatoes bridge the divide of nationality."
-Francine Prose, New York Times

"One can learn much from this man who feels tender toward cobblestones and old women, nostalgic about a daughter's childhood, frightened at the prospect of dying alone—a rare individual who, with honesty, sensuousness, and keen observation, turns yearning and remembrance into art."
–Susan Vreeland, author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue

"Richard Goodman’s marvelous book, The Soul of Creative Writing, will instruct, delight, edify, challenge, reassure, and guide any student of writing to a personal best."
–Molly Peacock, author of Cornucopia: New & Selected Poems

"Richard Goodman is one of the most generous and astute literary guides I've read. This book is a gift to writers."
–Rebecca Walker, author of Black, White and Jewish

"This book is not just for writers then, but for lovers of words and writing. For renewing my excitement about what I've chosen to do for a living, this book deserves thirteen exclamation marks".
–Stephanie Dickison, The Writer

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